The Epidemic of Anti-Gay Bullycide


Rolling Stone has an article about a rash of suicides, many of them by kids harassed for being, or being perceived as, gay, in a town in Michele Bachmann’s congressional district. We’ve seen a similar pattern here in Michigan and so has much of the rest of the country. The article starts with a heartbreaking story:

Every morning, Brittany Geldert stepped off the bus and bolted through the double doors of Fred Moore Middle School, her nerves already on high alert, bracing for the inevitable.

“Dyke.”

Pretending not to hear, Brittany would walk briskly to her locker, past the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders who loitered in menacing packs.

“Whore.”

Like many 13-year-olds, Brittany knew seventh grade was a living hell. But what she didn’t know was that she was caught in the crossfire of a culture war being waged by local evangelicals inspired by their high-profile congressional representative Michele Bachmann, who graduated from Anoka High School and, until recently, was a member of one of the most conservative churches in the area. When Christian activists who considered gays an abomination forced a measure through the school board forbidding the discussion of homosexuality in the district’s public schools, kids like Brittany were unknowingly thrust into the heart of a clash that was about to become intertwined with tragedy.

Brittany didn’t look like most girls in blue-collar Anoka, Minnesota, a former logging town on the Rum River, a conventional place that takes pride in its annual Halloween parade – it bills itself the “Halloween Capital of the World.” Brittany was a low-voiced, stocky girl who dressed in baggy jeans and her dad’s Marine Corps sweatshirts. By age 13, she’d been taunted as a “cunt” and “cock muncher” long before such words had made much sense. When she told administrators about the abuse, they were strangely unresponsive, even though bullying was a subject often discussed in school-board meetings. The district maintained a comprehensive five-page anti-bullying policy, and held diversity trainings on racial and gender sensitivity. Yet when it came to Brittany’s harassment, school officials usually told her to ignore it, always glossing over the sexually charged insults. Like the time Brittany had complained about being called a “fat dyke”: The school’s principal, looking pained, had suggested Brittany prepare herself for the next round of teasing with snappy comebacks – “I can lose the weight, but you’re stuck with your ugly face” – never acknowledging she had been called a “dyke.” As though that part was OK. As though the fact that Brittany was bisexual made her fair game.

So maybe she was a fat dyke, Brittany thought morosely; maybe she deserved the teasing. She would have been shocked to know the truth behind the adults’ inaction: No one would come to her aid for fear of violating the districtwide policy requiring school personnel to stay “neutral” on issues of homosexuality. All Brittany knew was that she was on her own, vulnerable and ashamed, and needed to find her best friend, Samantha, fast.

Not to ruin the plot, but Samantha, who seemed to have it all together and didn’t seem to be bothered by having the same bullying done to her, killed herself. So did 8 more kids in the same school district. There’s a lot more to read in the article. It’s tough to read, but it’s important.

Comments

  1. justsomeguy says

    I’m still trying to figure out how “treat it less favorably than something else” qualifies as “neutrality.”

  2. Chiroptera says

    Jeremy Shaffer, #1: How does “ignore it” remotely equal “neutrality”?

    In the same way that refusing to fund one of the major sources of health care for poor women is “neutrality in the culture wars.”

    Capitulating to the demands of the extremist right is “neutral.”

    Concern over unfairness and inequality is “partisanship.”

  3. says

    So the grownups are leading the bullying of the kids, and making laws to keep other grownups from intervening to stop it? That’s Republican family values for you. The Serbs could use a few tips from these bigots in the ethnic-cleansing department.

  4. karmakin says

    It’s important to note that when we’re talking about bullying these days of all stripes, this model is what we’re talking about. We’re not really talking about bigger kids stealing smaller kids lunch money or pushing them down the hall or whatever. We’re talking about communities which have declared outright war on people not like them.

    And yes, religion plays not only a big role in these things, but an essential role. Religion, especially evangelical religion teaches people that bullying is not only not bad, but that it’s an active good.

  5. says

    When she told administrators about the abuse, they were strangely unresponsive, even though bullying was a subject often discussed in school-board meetings. The district maintained a comprehensive five-page anti-bullying policy, and held diversity trainings on racial and gender sensitivity…

    That’s been a problem with bullying in general: we’ve been talking about it for YEARS, we’ve had “task forces” that exert no force, “working groups” whose “work” has no visible effect…and all that time, the problem is still there and no actual solutions have been offered. I’d be very surprised if any of the actual bullies took any of that talk seriously.

    There’s only one solution that appears (anecdotally at least) to work: fighting back, encouraging kids to fight back, and standing up for kids when they do. But so many adults are absolutely TERRIFIED of the thought that they fall back on lame-assed responses like the principal offered here, in sheer cowardice and insincerity. In so many cases, the adults — parents and school officials — are the ones capitulating to the bullies; and most of the other kids just follow their adult role-models’ example. Can you blame them?

    In all fairness, fighting back with names when you’re called names is better than nothing, and a few of the bullies will back off because that’s how cowardly they are. But when the adult authorities have publicly declared “neutrality,” and won’t stand up to the underlying bigotry, what few victories the kids themselves score will be isolated and not very meaningful.

  6. laurentweppe says

    We’re talking about communities which have declared outright war on people not like them

    To tell the truth, these articles about these kind of systematic collective homophobic behavior make me wonder how it is that gays student have not yet started to pull a colombine on their schools on a weekly basis.

  7. says

    That “neutrality” really sickens me. Deliberate inaction isn’t much different than siding with the bullies as far as I’m concerned in this case. If a group of kids are targeted by bullies, they need real support to deal with the issue, and the bullying needs to be stopped. The “neutrality” of looking the other way is only beneficial for the bullies.

    It’s an abdication of the school’s responsibility towards protecting students.

  8. says

    Another question: where were Brittany’s parents in any of this? Teh article says Brittany complained to the principal; but there’s nothing about her parents’ response up until her friend killed herself. Did her parents say anything? Maybe that spineless principal would have taken a grownup’s complaints more seriously, and done something.

    I’m not trying to shift blame away from the school district here. But parents do need to step up here, not just let their kids do all the fighting.

  9. matty1 says

    This is so awful but I do want to question one bit.

    Michele Bachmann, ..until recently, was a member of one of the most conservative churches in the area.

    What happened, did Michele leave the area, leave the church or did other churches step up the vileness so hers no longer qualified as ‘most’ conservative?

  10. Abby Normal says

    I don’t understand, with all this pain, hate, trauma, and death that goes with it, why do so many kids still choose to be gay?

    /snark to mask my outrage

  11. interrobang says

    /snark to mask my outrage

    I see what you’re trying to do there, but as someone who was ruthlessly bullied for years and came home to have parents ask “Well, what did you do to make them mad? You must have done something,” really not funny at all… :(

  12. baal says

    @ Bee in #10 – The school district has been getting an earful from parents and others for a obscenely long time from the anti-bullying side BUT the presence of Ms. Bachmann and threats of lawsuits and more from Minnesota Family Council had the school board in terror (which doesn’t absolve them of their responsibility). Some of the parents were also apparently afraid to make efforts on behalf of their children. It’s difficult to express how pretty much the entire town was run/afraid of the right wingers.

    DOJ involvement (and the other law suits) has really helped with the aura of fear fwiw.

    @ #11
    I think it was a combination of running for president and the State Republicans gerrymandering her district to be even more protected. As much as the (r) do or don’t like her, they see her losing an election as too good a PR point for dems.

  13. regexp says

    Not sure what the relevance of it being Bachmann’s district is. Its a large district and includes school districts that are more progressive on the same issues (including my own high school I graduated from in Woodbury).

    The sad part is that particular area is largely evangelical and vocal about it. Its hard to get anything rational done when you have housewives and their pastors in your face all the time.

  14. Chiroptera says

    And of course Bachmann and her ilk will be blaming these suicides on the kids being gay in the first place.

  15. Abby Normal says

    interrobang

    Sorry I offended. I wasn’t trying to be funny, but rather to highlight the absurdity of the “choose to be gay” mentality. Like you I was one of these bullied kids and I barely survived the experience. In elementary school I used to meticulously observe the kids around me, how they walked, how they talked, little details like how much someone’s fingers curled when at rest or how they shaded their eyes when walking out a door. I tried to memorize and imitate every detail in a desperate attempt to fit in. If I could have chosen to be straight I would have in a heartbeat.

  16. Michael Heath says

    regexp writes:

    Not sure what the relevance of it being Bachmann’s district is.

    Did you read what Ed quoted and the entire article prior to making this point?

    regexp writes:

    Its a large district and includes school districts that are more progressive on the same issues (including my own high school I graduated from in Woodbury).

    Just because some schools in this district have more competent administration doesn’t falsify that political power and regulations favoring bullying isn’t due to the causes reported in the article in other schools in the district. All it means is that some groups are capable of behaving above a low standard.

  17. 930i7 says

    The school board and administratiion need to grow a pair and tell the pastors to go back to running their churchesand let them run the school district; or maybe said pastors would like the school board and administration to run their churches for them.

  18. meg says

    Abby/interrobang

    Came across this article a few months back, might be something you can empathise with based on what you’ve said. I’ve given it to students when we’ve been discussing the concept of belonging, one of the core topics for English in the final year exams for New South Wales. Bonus is I get to analyse the techniques, etc, while often trying to encourage discussion of bullying.

    http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/the-school-facade-20110628-1gor6.html

  19. Nemo says

    Doesn’t the term “bullycide” imply that the bullies are the ones being killed?

    Yes. It’s an ill-formed neologism.

    homicide = the killing (cide) of a human (homo)
    suicide = the killing (cide) of the self (sui)

    etc., etc.

    “Well, what did you do to make them mad? You must have done something,”

    Yep, I heard that too.

    There’s only one solution that appears (anecdotally at least) to work: fighting back, encouraging kids to fight back, and standing up for kids when they do.

    Second that. Anecdotally, it worked for me (after years of trying to follow the very bad advice to just ignore the bullies, which didn’t work at all).

  20. zachpruckowski says

    @Raging Bee #6:

    “Fighting back” with counter-bullying doesn’t work well when the odds are closer to 9v1 than 1v1. Unless you pull an Ender Wiggin[1], you simply don’t have enough leverage.

    And any sort of fighting back is open to punishment by school authorities. The school has to be “neutral” on the issue of them calling you a f****t, but your right to call the bullies out as jackasses is not similarly protected.

    [1] – For reasons that should be obvious, I do not advocate this approach.

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